PAX South 2017

PAX South: Hands-On with Nintendo Switch, Zelda, Splatoon

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Nintendo was in full force at PAX South last weekend. A large, permanently crowded booth stood near the front of the show floor. You could wait in line for hours to play half a dozen titles for the newly announced Nintendo Switch. The marquee title, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, had its own roped off section within the booth area. That was a separate line that filled up instantly, creating a three hour wait to play the 20 minute demo throughout the weekend.

Thankfully I got a chance to meet privately with Nintendo and get some quality time with the Switch.

The first thing that hit me upon seeing the Switch for the first time was the tiny size of the detachable Joy-Con controllers. They slide right off the handheld screen and fit in the palm of your hand as you wrap your fingers around. The wrist strap easily slides onto each half. Depending on the game you can hold one half like a super tiny controller with both hands, or grip each in one hand.

The motion control felt like a huge step up from the Wiimote. It still creates the gimmicky toy feel of the Wii, but motion control games like 1, 2, Switch and Arms felt fine-tuned, precise and intuitive. That feeling of bubbles or tiny balls within the Joy-Con uses accelerometer and gyrometer technology to track precise movement, and it worked really well in everything we tried.

The two halves of the Joy-Con can attach to the handheld screen to create the portable mode of the Nintendo Switch. It looked and felt similar to the Wii U gamepad, but more smooth and far less bulky. The buttons all felt responsive and everything was in the place you’d expect. I was also really impressed with the seamless transition from pulling the handheld screen out of the dock and vice-versa. Instant switch from portable to home console.

For a more traditional controller experience the Pro controller was up to speed. It felt decently weighty and more substantial than the Wii and Wii U’s equivalent Pro controller. For serious gaming while the Switch is docked, the Pro controller definitely felt like the preferred way to play. Unfortunately it’s sold separately.

With any console it all comes down to the games. Here are the games I played for the Nintendo Switch at PAX South.

Nintendo Switch1, 2, Switch

1, 2, Switch is very much the Wii Sports of the Nintendo Switch. It’s a large collection of mini-games designed to show off the Switch’s impressive motion controls. It will also serve as a big draw for party games. Like the Wii, it could serve as a major incentive for folks that aren’t necessarily big on video games.

I tried a number of games that used the two halves of the Joy-Con for one-on-one competition. Most games could be played without even looking at the screen, and instead looking at your opponent. You could play as dueling gunslingers trying to shoot each other by being the first to raise your Joy-Con, or try to catch each other’s samurai swords with your hands as your opponent swung their Joy-Con downward. There was even an awkward milking game as you both used your controllers to quickly milk a cow.

Each game was designed to play in just a few seconds and played a short, funny video with real actors showing how to do it. The whole experience was very much designed for groups of people to take turns. I was shocked to learn that 1, 2, Switch is not going to be a pack-in title like Wii Sports was in the U.S. Even more shocked to learn the price tag – $50!

1, 2, Switch will be available at launch on March 3.

Snipperclips: Cut It Out, Together!

Of all the Switch games I saw Snipperclips was the most delightfully surprising. It’s a cooperative puzzle game designed for two players to play locally, each with one half of the Joy-Con. Each person controls one of the cute animated paper figures in a world made out of graph paper and doodles. Each figure can jump and rotate their bodies.

Nintendo Switch

Their signature ability is to cut each other. That sounds like anything but cute, but it’s incredibly endearing thanks to their adorable animations. You cut shapes out of each other to try and solve puzzles, like pushing buttons or getting a basketball into a hoop. There are multiple ways to solve each puzzle. The design reminded me a lot of Scribblenauts with the cute paper world and free-form puzzle solving.

Snipperclips will be a $19.99 downloadable title. This is could be a big hit for the Switch, and do an excellent job of offering a unique cooperative experience. It’s not quite a launch title but will release later in March.

Arms

Nintendo SwitchAt first glance Arms looks like another gimmicky motion control game. While it does use the motion control of the Joy-Con, Arms is a much deeper fighting game than I was expecting. In Arms you play as a fighter with extendable arms, powered entirely by the motion of your actual hands and arms while holding the Joy-Con. We played in split-screen on TV Mode and each player needs to have both halves of the Joy-Con in each hand to control your two separate arms.

Like traditional fighting games, Arms has multiple fighters, arenas, and even a variety of arm types. Fighting is balanced on the holy triangle of attack-grab-block. Performing each move requires a simple flick of your wrist. “There’s no complex button controls, everything you need is right here,” said J.C. Rodrigo, Manager of Product Marketing for Nintendo Treehouse. Your fighters can also block and dash around the arenas. One arena we fought in was like a mad scientist’s laboratory. You could hide behind vats of liquid or destroy them.

Motion controls for a fighting game definitely presented a learning curve. Once I found a decent rhythm I could see the fun potential. Time will tell if the game’s depth will win over fighting game fans, or if the motion controls will seem too bizarre.

Arms is due out in the first half of 2017.

Nintendo SwitchSuper Bomberman R

Bomberman was easily the most disappointing title I played for the Switch. The last Bomberman game I played was on the Nintendo 64, and it didn’t look like much had changed in the last 20 years. The game played in a single top-down arena as four players (me against 3 AI bots) dropped bombs in a destructible environment. Chaos ensues as you try to explode your rivals while watching out for enemy (and your own) bombs.

It felt very simple and archaic, but the full game boasts dozens of levels, and both cooperative and competitive play. It will release alongside the Nintendo Switch on March 3 for a ridiculous price tag of $49.99.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

“Did you ever play the first Zelda? The very first one?” said Rodrigo. “This game is more akin to that.” So began my all-too-short experience with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. A special 20 minute demo was designed for press and fan previews. It starts Link off in a small temple. Upon exiting you’re treated to a massive vista that shows the scope and gorgeous level design of the world. I even got fed the classic Bethesda line: “If you see it, you can go there.”

Nintendo Switch

The classic third person action-adventure gameplay felt perfect, but more impressive was how much that familiar gameplay is being pushed forward in this new entry. There’s a full-blown crafting and cooking system as you gather ingredients. There’s loot that feels more like a Diablo-esque ARPG, and you can easily switch weapons on the fly with the D-pad. You’ll need to switch weapons as they’ll break after enough uses. Enemies can be disarmed – and can disarm you. The real physics in the game, from lightning striking your metal armor from the dynamic weather system, to chopping down a tree and rolling it down a hill to trample foes was astonishing.

It’s entirely possible that Breath of the Wild could very well redefine what it means to be an open world game. The term has been over-saturated ever since Bethesda ran away with it with Elder Scrolls and Fallout. As my friendly Nintendo reps pointed out, Zelda was really the progenitor of the whole genre.

I asked about the differences between the Wii U and Switch versions. The Wii U will require a portion of the game to be installed on the system, about three GB. Sound quality, mostly ambient, will be slightly inferior on the Wii U. Finally the total resolution in TV mode will be slightly lower for the Wii U (Normal resolution is 720p on handheld, 1080p when docked for TV). Content and graphics will be exactly the same.

The main selling point for the Switch over the Wii U will be in portability. If you want to play Zelda on the go, you need the Switch.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild launches for both systems on March 3.

Splatoon 2

Nintendo switchSplatoon 2 wasn’t available in the private press meeting but I got a chance to play it later on the show floor. I got to to play two matches, and I made sure to try out the new dual gun and jetpack setup.

The gameplay was exactly like the first Splatoon. Two teams of four are dropped onto a map. In the demo each player could choose one of four weapons with the goal of painting more of the map with their color. You can swim through your color paint to reload your paint gun and avoid enemy fire. Getting knocked out caused you to respawn at the entrance for a few seconds.

It felt just like Splatoon in all the right ways. I played on the Pro controller and motion control was on by default. That sounds horrifying (and it was at first) but the Switch is vastly improved with motion controls.

There wasn’t much new compared to the first game and Nintendo seems to be approaching this from a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” angle. I suspect that enough people missed out on the Wii U that many titles for the Switch will simply by relaunches of Wii U games (see also: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe). Splatoon 2 very much feels like that. On the other hand Splatoon was a darn fine game.

Splatoon 2 releases this Summer.